Saddle Time

Posted in Bike Stuff, Experiences, Random thoughts by dave on June 18, 2011 1 Comment

Ordinary (Penny Farthing) bicycle

I’ve made a somewhat startling realization this week: Beginning July 15th, I’ll be participating in some sort of organized cycling event every weekend for a solid month.

On the 15th, I’ll be kicking off the craziness with a ride in the 6th Annual Fat Tire Festival at our area’s definitive singletrack destination, Dryer Road Park. But that’s just a warm up – the following weekend, I’ll be burning about 6x the energy of the Fat Tire when I ride in a twenty-four hour mountain bike race – thankfully, as part of a team of 4 riders.

From there, the fun moves onto the road, with the Ride MS century (that’s 100 miles, kids) the next weekend, and a 55-mile tour one week later.

I suppose the training rides have already started – but I sure don’t feel as ready for this epic month of cycling as I did for last year’s race!

Prediction: Welcome to Reality!

Posted in Geek Stuff by dave on June 9, 2011 No Comments yet

Considering that (at least as far as I can recollect) I’ve only made one prediction here on, it appears I am now officially 100% more reliable than Harold Camping at fortelling future events…

Back in January, while musing on the topic of sea trends and innovations in mobile technology, I predicted that mobile app rentals would emerge as a new business model sometime in 2011. The idea? Rather than require users to purchase applications that they might only use for a short period of time, offer a rental option. It’s a particularly-appealing prospect for the travel and gaming markets, where application use is often transient, and rentals offer a potential annuity revenue stream. Of course, it doesn’t take much of a leap to make the jump to a subscription model, either…

Well, this morning I got a nice birthday present: My prediction came true! T-Mobile and WildTangent (an Android game development house) have announced that they’ll be offering 25-cent game rentals! Keep up the innovation, folks – every time I read the tech news, pick up my phone or sit down at my workstation, I’m reminded we’re living in amazing times.

When Green Means Tunnel Vision…

Posted in Geek Stuff, Random thoughts, Ranting by dave on April 22, 2011 No Comments yet

(Happy Earth Day everyone…)

Occasionally, staunch environmentalists make a good point or two. But in many cases, despite their enthusiasm for the term “sustainability”, they’re just not willing to look at the big picture. Case in point? Greenpeace recently released a scorecard for the “green-ness” of datacenters operated by the world’s cloud computing behemoths. Here it is:

Greenpeace's flawed cloud computing green-ness report card

“So what’s the problem?” you might ask… According to a Greenpeace quote highlighted by Boy Genius Report, everyone’s favorite eco-terrorism troupe based their siting scores on the typical sources of electricity for the states where the datacenters are located. But if we’re going to talk genuine “sustainability” (which, by the way, eco-nuts are completely uninterested in) then you’ve got to consider a lot more factors than just the makeup of the power grid sources in a particular host state.

If we take a look at an infographic from the ever-so-transparently-named CoolerPlanet, we can see just how “green” the electricity sources in each US state are:

So greener is always better, right? Not necessarily. Greenpeace specifically bad-mouthed Apple for choosing to locate its newest datacenter in North Carolina, where the energy supply is notoriously un-green. But what were their alternatives? A California site would expose the datacenter to earthquake risks – and I’m sure your neighborhood Greenpeace operative isn’t keen on downtime for their favorite iDevice. Coastal Texas isn’t really an option due to the risk of severe weather. That leaves inland Texas, the Pacific Northwest, and New York.

“Great, relocate there!” say our tree-hugging friends. Not so fast – remember that inland Texas can throw down a wicked heat gauntlet in the summer, while Oregon, Washington and New York get downright frigid in the winters. The DOE estimates that almost half of a typical datacenter’s energy consumption is used for climate control – what happens to that number when the ambient temperature is well over 100°F? Or -10°F? Suddenly, choosing a comfortably-temperate and relatively disaster-free state like North Carolina or Virginia – despite the un-greenness of their energy supplies – doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. I’m sure the stewards of these datacenters would much rather not use as much as 10X the total energy – along with all it’s concomitant transmission inefficiencies – and keep their overall consumption low.

When you start factoring in second-order causes and effects – such as the environmental impact of pulling power, water, fiber and vehicle conduits into remote places, landfill and recycling capacities, employee commute emissions, construction impact – the sites that Apple, Google, Facebook and others have chosen start to look even better. As is almost always the case, monovariatic analysis in pursuit of a pre-selected conclusion falls flat on its face when a bigger-picture view is considered.

Unfortunately, datacenters consume a lot of energy. Choosing their sites carefully – not only based on energy sources but also based on consumption – can reduce this. The people whose jobs, reputations and employers’ solvency are on the line have no choice but to look at the big picture. Ultimately the true solution for Greenpeace’s gripes is likely for them (and the rest of us) to give up their iPhones and App Stores – but then – how would they coordinate their naval blocades, nuclear power plant break-ins and cargo ship boardings?

Saturday Morning Tuneage: The Boxer Rebellion

Posted in Saturday Morning Tuneage by dave on April 16, 2011 No Comments yet

It’s been a while since I last wrote Saturday Morning Tuneage, but (perhaps along with my presence on this web site) it’s something I’ve been hoping to resurrect. A spate of new music purchases this past week reminded me just how much I enjoyed spending my Saturday mornings with my laptop and my favorite headphones – so (at least this week) I’m setting aside some tuneage time.

Maybe (probably?) it’s just me, but it seems like the majority of performers that appear in movies – while usually musicians in real life – are merely playing additional characters. So I suppose it was entirely natural for me to think that The Boxer Rebellion wasn’t a real band when one of the main characters in the rom-com Going the Distance dropped the group’s name. But, much to my surprise, the indie-rock group popped up on the set list of my friend Andy’s long-running Internet radio show! A quick Amazon search revealed they’ve actually released three albums, the oldest of which dates back to 2005. It only took a few previews to convince me to pick up all three…

Exits (2005) – Amazon, eMusic

I started my chronological tour of The Boxer Rebellion with Exits. Frontman Nathan Nicholson doesn’t waste any time before introducing us to his range – he gives equal time to quiet, subdued lyrics and urgent, almost-imploring vocals in the album’s opening tracks. The occasional distortion seems well-placed, and has a nice analog quality to it – you can almost see the board’s VU meters peaking into the red in Nicholson’s voice. While hints of Coldplay come through occasionally, the far more-indie sound of the instrumentals was a nice differentiator.

My first run through Exits – as with the other two albums – played through my office open-air as I wrote various bits of software. It was great coding music inasmuch as it maintained a good pace and an urgent tone – but no particular track stood out enough from the background for me to stop and take note of it. If I were to queue up the album on a different day, I can’t pin down any one that I’d jump to – all were good, but none were catchy enough to stand out. One possible exception was the atypically-melodic “Never Knowing How Or Why”.

Union (2009) – Amazon, eMusic

I started to notice patterns as I moved on from Exits to Union. The four years of (presumable) work and maturation that preceded Rebellion’s sophomore effort showed immediately, but the band certainly tipped their hats to their first release: come out the gate with a strong beat and prominent vocals to get the listener’s attention, make everything flow with nice seamless transitions, and offer a stylistic variety that (quite justifiably) shows off your musical versatility.

Unlike Exits, however, the songs on this album had contrast. When a new one came on, I noticed. I noticed the acoustic subtlety of “Soviets”. I noticed the head-nodding, foot-tapping magnetism of “Spitting Fire”. And I noticed the bits I’d go back to the next time Union ends up in front of me.

The Cold Still (2011) – Amazon, eMusic

After listening through five years of music-making in my first two hours with The Boxer Rebellion, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect when I dove into their most-recent release. Of course, as most assumptions go, I was wrong. Right out the gate with “No Harm”, the band made it clear they intend to be taken seriously. The indie-sounding guitar tracks are pushed farther into the album, and they wait to turn up the catchy-dial. This was the point where I stopped my work and took notice.

In The Cold Still, the lyrics turn more introspective and dark – but in light of their accompaniment remain encouraging-sounding. More than just offering song-to-song contrast, the band now juxtaposes sounds with emotions, and explores the complexities that take them beyond the typical indie sound – they achieve a phenomenon I’ve wanted to explore more: Some of the songs enter that personal canon of music that seems unfathomable not to have been written. For a perfect example of all-of-the-above, listen to “Organ Song” with your eyes closed. It makes you want to get up and run. Not from anything, or to anywhere. Just run.

If you couldn’t tell from the above, I’m glad The Boxer Rebellion is a real band. They’ll certainly be regularly appearing in my playlists from now on, and I hope they keep up the good work in their releases. In the mean time, do pick those releases up – if you have any sort of affinity for indie rock, you’ll be glad you did.

I couldn’t agree more

Posted in Random thoughts by dave on March 31, 2011 No Comments yet

Harvard Business Review: “Big Content” is Strangling American Innovation

When you want to foster innovation, a good place to start is to look at who’s putting up roadblocks to it. The most reliable answers lately? Government, deep-rooted and deep-pocketed existing industries, and those who are out to extort an easy buck from others’ hard work. So that logic, I suppose, puts the RIAA on the same level as the world’s many patent trolls. Too bad our government of-late seems all-too-happy to cater to both.

[Update: Here's a perfect example - Time Warner removes channels from iPad app (facing pending battles with content providers)...]

Shameless Opinion Blurb…

Posted in Ranting by dave on March 23, 2011 No Comments yet

…that I think we can all agree on:

For the last year – including recently, thanks to special a couple of special elections – politicians and their TV and radio ads have been telling us how much trouble New York State is in. Apparently, well over a million people left last year, and from what I hear we’ve got a deficit that puts us pretty high on the list of states that, well, have big deficits. Our new governor, despite the “D” that follows his name, is proposing some pretty steep cuts in his forthcoming budget, which supposedly needs to be passed by April 1st, or (horror of horrors) the state might have to shut down. If it does somehow pass, I’m sure we’ll be left with a lot of pissed-off special interests who’ll gladly spend what’s left of their money baiting public sympathy on the airwaves.

And yet, somehow, our elected representatives have managed to make sure that budget contains over a million clams that are earmarked for the state’s desperately-needy “racino” facilities!

I know first-hand that doing business in New York state is hard. Nobody’s out there wheelbarrowing money to “Impact Aid” programs for companies that innovate and invent. Meanwhile, consider the racino business model: basically customers show up, pay to play some games, and in nearly every case leave with less money than they walked in with. Winning – and therefore cost – is stochastic and controllable. So that basically boils down to owning a business where your customers come in, hand you some money, and leave. And yet somehow, these places need taxpayer subsidies?!

At the lowest level, I’m not sure why racinos shouldn’t have to play by the rules the rest of us on the big New York state business playground have to follow. If you can’t keep the lights on with customers giving you money in exchange for a few minutes with a video poker game, you should close. Which brings me to the larger point, which is purely a matter of my opinion… The honorable senator Nozollio says that subsidies for racinos are important because the racinos create jobs. But for every job they create, how many people’s livelihoods do they impact negatively by providing a convenient place to gamble? And for every dollar that flows into the racinos in the form of the “Impact Aid” program, how many more go into those games out of people’s taxpayer-funded subsidy checks?

It’s one thing for a “racino” to stand on its own two feet, operating as a sustainable business, providing jobs and what all-too-often passes for “entertainment”. But when the state starts writing big checks to that racino out of my tax dollars, someone’s priorities are badly misplaced.

Unique non-feature

Posted in 1-Minute Posts, Geek Stuff, Random thoughts by dave on February 4, 2011 No Comments yet

We in the open-source world hear a lot of flack about all the things open source supposedly “doesn’t do”. Looks like we can add one more thing to the list of things Linux and other open-source software offerings don’t do: provide funding for international crime syndicates.

What comes after Inbox Zero

Posted in Geek Stuff by dave on January 29, 2011 3 Comments

It seems like certain tools in our lives have a tendency to morph into lifestyles, obsessions, or even whip-wielding captors (complete with Stockholm Syndrome) over time. I can think of few better-suited examples of this than E-Mail… Most of us have an almost Pavlovian reaction to incoming e-mail when we’re at work, and thanks to smartphones, Blackberries and webmail portals, we can make our e-mail obsession immediate and ubiquitous in ways unimaginable just a few years ago.

Sometime in 2007, my thoroughly-digitized friend Pauley introduced me to “Inbox Zero” as I played with his shiny new iPhone. Curious why his e-mail inbox was conspicuously empty, he explained that Inbox Zero is a practice he follows that was dreamed up by Merlin Mann, an Internet guru who rolls with the who’s-who of the web’s cutting edge. The philosophy – and it’s definitely a philosophy – is that our time is too precious and scarce to waste letting e-mail (which, let’s remember, is a tool) dictate how we work. After letting the concept stew at “interesting” status for a while, I started using Inbox Zero at my day job in 2008. Minutes after I processed through my inbox for the first time, colleagues started asking me about my curious new practice. After a day or two, I stopped dreading opening Lotus Notes (well, except for the fact that it was Lotus Notes). And after a week, I noticed that the time I was spending on e-mail had dramatically dropped. Like, by a factor of ten.

Since then, I’ve tried my best to keep using Inbox Zero. I’ve been better at it some times than others, but in using it, I’ve noticed a hole of-sorts in the practice of Inbox Zero. The philosophy advises that we must change the way we view e-mail in order to constrain our interaction with it to manageable chunks of time. The practice, on the other hand, suggests that we should fit that interaction into “passes” or “dashes”, which we use to methodically process through our messages and address them. Therein, at least in my experience, lies the problem.

I think one of the reasons people are easily trapped into pouring time into e-mail is that it’s often the “glue” that binds their other activities. When you arrive at the office, you check your e-mail and find something actionable. You go off (either physically or mentally) and do whatever it is the e-mail demands, then return to respond or file it away. The turnaround time might be seconds, minutes or hours, but in every case you find yourself back in your inbox. When we process to zero as Merlin advises, we partially short-circuit this process by filing actionable messages into a spot that’s more worthy of our time and attention. But the problem remains: some e-mails just take a long time to address.

For me – and that’s a huge caveat – what’s lacking is a way to separate the e-mails from the actions they prompt. In my world, an e-mail can just as easily trigger a 30-second response as it can trigger a two-hour excursion into analyzing a customer’s design. In both cases, the e-mail is actionable and needs answering. But in one case, I can handle it right within my e-mail dash, while in the other I’m performing a significant (and often billable) task in order to generate a response. My answer? I think this is where having a solid means of managing tasks and projects comes in. For our professional projects, my partners and I use Basecamp to manage tasks – so when I encounter an e-mail that results in a slug of work to do, I try to distill the message into the actions it’s prompting, then capture them in Basecamp. I can then file the e-mail away for a response once the work’s done, keep my inbox at zero, and respect my existing means of selecting what to do when.

That practice needs to feed back into Inbox Zero’s philosophy: e-mail shouldn’t short-circuit your existing ways of managing your tasks and getting things done. Just because it makes a nice dinging sound doesn’t mean it gets elevated to the highest priority. Yes, Merlin does touch on this, but it’s really in the context of “the before” with respect to using Inbox Zero. E-mail in proper perspective is a must – but re-training yourself to funnel e-mail’s “actionables” into your regular workstream is just as important. Of course, this assumes you have a regular workstream apart from e-mail firefighting and task management by-heroics…and if you don’t, I can’t think of a better way to start making space for one than with Inbox Zero.

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